Tetanus is a very rare disease caused by a bacterial toxin. This disease is rare because a vaccine exists for tetanus, and many people keep up their vaccines and receive prompt vaccination if they are at risk for tetanus. As a general rule, people need the vaccine every 10 years, and if they have not had a vaccine within five years and they have a deep or very dirty wound, a booster vaccine may be recommended.
This disease develops when the Clostridium tetani bacteria enters the body through a wound. These bacteria produce a toxin which causes muscle spasms, and symptoms of tetanus classically appear between five and 15 days after exposure. People with deep puncture wounds are at especially high risk of tetanus, as are people who are injured in dirty environments.
One of the classic signs of tetanus is muscle spasms, especially around the face and throat. In fact, the condition's alternate name, “lockjaw,” references the severe muscle spasms which some patients experience. The muscles are also usually stiff and sore, especially in the early days of the disease, and the pain can be concentrated around the back and neck.
Other symptoms of tetanus include: fever, urine retention, sweating, difficulty swallowing, irritability, sore throat, and anxiety. Soreness around the site where the bacteria were introduced is also common, and the area may appear red and inflamed. The patient can also develop severe pain in the spasming muscles, and he or she may develop an airway obstruction as the muscles around the throat contract. If the airway becomes compromised, the patient is at risk of death.
The treatment for tetanus involves administering an antitoxin to counteract the effects of the bacterial toxin, and antibiotics to kill the bacteria so that they will stop producing the toxin. Patients may also be given muscle relaxers to ease the muscle spasms, and patients with airways which are at risk may be put on a ventilator.
While it is most definitely useful to be able to recognize the symptoms of tetanus, preventing tetanus is very important. Getting regular tetanus shots will reduce the risk of tetanus, and people who are not sure about when they last received a tetanus shot should talk to their doctors. When someone is wounded, the wound should always be properly cleaned and flushed to discourage infection, and people with deep, ragged, or dirty wounds should be taken to a doctor for evaluation whether or not they develop the symptoms of tetanus, as early treatment can prevent complications.